About a decade ago HMC Farms in Kingsburg, Calif. discovered a solution to benefit the local community with fresh stone fruit that would be thrown away for cosmetic reasons. Now those benefits extend statewide.
Each year HMC Farms donates over one million pounds of fresh stone fruit – peaches, plums and nectarines – to the California Association of Food Banks, an umbrella organization that oversees 43 local food banks and an even larger number of food pantries and other charitable food donation centers.
Jon McClarty, president of HMC Farms, says donating to the food banks is simply what one does to give back to the community and provide a better social value for food that would otherwise be destroyed.
Founded by Jon’s father, Harold McClarty, and Mike Jensen in 1987, HMC Farms is now a fifth-generation operation with roots dating back to a 40-acre ranch acquired in 1887. Today HMC Farms harvests stone fruit and table grapes from about 6,000 acres of land in Fresno and Tulare counties.
HMC Farms is currently operated by members of the McClarty and Jensen families, including Harold (co-founder), Jon (president); Jon’s wife, Sarah, who does the grower accounting for HMC Farms; Jon’s sister Chelsea Ketelsen, who works in the sales office and is heavily involved in marketing; Chelsea’s husband, Drew, who is in charge of grape growing and production for HMC; and, Harold’s sister, Paula Bruner, who works in the accounting office;
The Jensen side of the partnership includes Mike Jensen; Mike’s wife, Joan, who is involved at the packinghouse; their son Vince, who farms peaches and nectarines for the partnership; their daughter, Krista Carlson, who does the accounting for Jensen Farms; and, Krista’s husband, Jacob, who works with Vince in the peaches and nectarines.
“My mom (Debby) takes care of the grandkids,” said Jon McClarty.
HMC Farms grows 40-50 different varieties of peaches that will be harvested from April through September. This year’s crop was about two-to-three weeks ahead of a normal year across the board, McClarty said.
“Picking nectarines this late in the season 30 years ago was an anomaly,” McClarty said while standing amidst an orchard of Summer Blush variety being harvested in early August. “Now we have varieties we can pick until September and peaches that can harvest even later.”
It’s HMC’s stone fruit that is part of a statewide effort to provide food banks up and down California with fresh fruit that would be culled for no other reason than it does not fit market specifications.
“We do this because it’s as simple as giving back to the community,” said Jon McClarty. “It’s a better social value for your product that cannot go to market. It’s kind of tragic that we probably cull 30 percent of our product, so it hurts a little less if you can do something good with it.”
Gail Gray works with the California Association of Food Banks, the umbrella organization for 43 different food banks. Gray handles the logistics between the farmers and the food banks. She also runs the Farm to Family Program portion of the organization, which links fresh produce with those in need.
Gray works with HMC Farms to get San Joaquin Valley fruit into local food banks. What cannot be consumed there is trucked to food banks in the Bay Area and elsewhere in the state.
According to Gray, HMC’s produce goes first to the Fresno Community Food Bank, which is a 30-minute ride by refrigerated truck from HMC Farm’s cold storage facility.
Andrew Souza is the chief executive officer of Fresno’s program, which oversees donations to about 285,000 people per month in California’s fifth-largest city (population 509,000) and its surrounding communities. Souza receives food donation from over 30 different farming operations.
According to Souza, much of the fresh produce donated to the food bank comes from local sources like HMC Farms.
This includes stone fruit, potatoes, citrus, melons, onions, sweet potatoes and bell peppers.
“We receive a broad array of what tends to be in season,” Souza said.
“We’re really blessed by the local farmers,” Souza said.
What makes the stone fruit program so special is the fruit is 100 percent donated. Because of this, stone fruit was the first fresh product that went into the Farm to Families Program, according to Gray.
For McClarty, the donations provide a means to give away edible fruit that would have to be resorted so they could sell it to frozen or juice markets.
“This is just an involved process in order to recoup some of your costs,” McClarty said.
“Our goal is to challenge other growers to donate food to the food banks,” McClarty continued. “Some farmers simply may not be aware of these programs. We want them to know they exist.”
HMC Farms is a large operation that includes packinghouses and cold storage facilities. The company handles over four million boxes of stone fruit and another one million boxes of California table grapes each year.
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